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Akbar Al Baker – vigorously pursuing expansion plans
Qatar Airways' chief tells Kipp new airport will simply be 'the best in the world'...
May 9, 2013 5:01 by Muhammad Aldalou
When Akbar Al Baker tells you that within three years, his airline will operate in 170 destinations, with 170 airplanes and become an even bigger player in the aviation industry than it currently is, it’s difficult not to believe him. His credibility could easily be attributed to a number of factors; his prominent charisma, determined tone of speech or overall demeanor.
It’s also the fact that he’s the chief executive officer and visionary behind Qatar Airways – an airline that, despite facing financial losses, delays and muted expansion plans, continues to plough on stronger than ever. When asked what the greatest challenges airlines in the gulf face, he candidly referred to insufficient slots in western airports due to lack of expansion, rising fuel prices, government lobbying aimed at restricting growth due to Co2 emissions and most importantly, congested airspace.
It was only recently that the Doha-based airline’s fleet of 20 Boeing 787 aircrafts was given the green light to operate. Before then, they were parked on the ground for three months; costing the airline $200 million in financial losses. Al Baker has expressed unhappiness and disappointment with the situation, but repeatedly says he will be compensated by Boeing – but that actual figures cannot be discussed.
“We don’t buy planes to park them on the ground,” he said to reporters at this year’s Arabian Travel Market in Dubai. “We lose money this way, and it upset us that we were unable to operate them. Of course, now they’re flying again and we will push ahead with our growth plans.”
Al Baker tells Kipp Report that he intends to regain the airline’s expansion momentum in two ways; by vigorously pursuing their existing plans to expand, and by receiving additional aircrafts – possibly from both Boeing and Airbus. As far as alliances go, he insists that once Qatar Air officially joins OneWorld in October, they will be part of “a huge alliance and continue to look for more partners to grow their business”.
As for an alliance with Dubai-based Emirates Airlines, Al Baker did not want to discuss it anymore. “We talk to each other often, but to even have an alliance, we would have to pass through many regulatory hurdles and they’re very complicated, therefore we don’t want to talk about it anymore,” he said.
Aside from airplane deliveries and expanding to new routes, Al Baker was visibly proud about an arguably more important, and imminent, development.
Hamad International Airport (commonly known as Doha’s new International Airport) is the world’s first to be designed, operated and solely managed by an airline. Kipp wondered whether this sets a precedent for other airlines to follow suit but the visibly enthusiastic CEO doesn’t necessarily agree.
“I don’t know if other airlines have the same vision that Qatar Airways does,” he tells Kipp. “I don’t know if other airlines have the kind of knowledge that we’ve developed managing an airport.” He adds that once the airport is officially operational, it will “simply be the best in the world” – as the airline has put in six years of detailed planning in transforming it into a world-class airport. He believes the airport will very difficult for anybody else to match.
“It’s not always money that produces something good, it’s the vision, the perseverance and of course, the quality and standards,” he said.